The Rohingya: Humanitarian Crisis or Security Threat?

The Rohingya: Humanitarian Crisis or Security Threat?

This article is part of “Southeast Asia: Refugees in Crisis,” an ongoing series  by The Diplomat for summer and fall 2015 featuring exclusive articles from scholars and practitioners tackling Southeast Asia’s ongoing refugee crisis.All articles in the series can be found here.

To respond to the alarming rise of stranded persons in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, the Royal Thai Government organized the “Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean” on May 29, 2015 in Bangkok. The meeting was convened to address the continuing exodus of migrants and refugees from Myanmar. These refugees are mainly Rohingya, a Muslim minority group. They have been treated as “second-class” and”non citizens,” suffering from social discrimination, massive violent repression, human rights violations, and political exclusion. In addition to repressive policies by the central government, the Rohingya have also faced extremely anti-Muslim sentiments fanned partly by government-supported Buddhist fundamentalism in Myanmar.

The Southeast Asian and South Asian region has witnessed tremendous human movement – including hundreds of thousands refugees from Myanmar trying to enter neighboring countries illegally – especially Bangladesh. However, despite the increasingly dire humanitarian crisis, most of the potential host states are reluctant to accept more Rohingya refugees. One of the major reasons for this is an increasing trend in the region of viewing the Rohingya issue not solely as a humanitarian issue, but also a security and political one. As awareness has grown in both dimensions – humanitarian and security – there is a growing recognition among the international community of the need to do more than just ignoring the worsening situation of the Rohingya.

Historically, the Rohingya are predominantly Muslim and closely related to the Bengali people. Originally, many of them migrated from the Indian subcontinent towards the east into ‘Theravada Buddhist Myanmar,’ especially during the British colonial time. Relations between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar started deteriorating during the country’s liberation struggle. Relatively soon after gaining independence, the new rulers in Myanmar identified the Rohingya as economic refugees, a move that would be significant to the socio-economic composition and political power structure of the country. A policy of repression soon followed, which treated the Rohingya as illegal migrants subject to eviction.

The severity of the Rohingya migration issue can be understood as a clear result of three intermingling factors.  First is the emergence of authoritarian (military) regimes in Myanmar. Second is the consequence of a cultural confrontation between different ethnic-religious communities in Myanmar. This conflict gained significance after the military rulers attempted to assimilate religious-ethnic minorities into the mainstream Burmese culture. A strategy of an enforced cultural unification, namely Burmanization, was used as a way of “National Reconsolidation.” Third is the initial ignorance and inaction from policymakers worldwide despite the fact that the Rohingya issue was increasingly having international implications.

Today, it would seem that awareness of the Rohingya and their illegal migration is finally rising within the international community. In part, however, this new attention to the Rohingya issue stems from the tendency to identify Rohingya refugees as a “non-traditional security threat.”

In particular, there is a growing conviction among analysts that the massive influx of the Rohingyas during the last decades is creating a multidimensional security crisis. As stateless refugees, they have become the face of security threats as well as various forms of psycho-social and human security challenges in Myanmar and in their new host countries across the region like Bangladesh.

Most Rohingya who have migrated to other countries live in extraordinarily deplorable conditions. Living in forms of involuntarily and illegal self-settlement, they have to deal regularly with security forces, the unease and resistance of local communities, and restricted access to food, drinking water, sufficient shelter, and clothing. Partly as a result of these circumstances, they are often more easily targeted by criminal networks, illegal businesses, and Islamic fundamentalist groups like the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), or Harkat-ulJihad-al Islami (Huji).

This in turn leads illegal Rohingya migrants – particularly those living in illegal camps or unregistered as refugees – to be perceived as the cause of conflict. The movement of Rohingya refugees begins to be viewed through the prism of the rising challenge of controlling Islamic terrorism and political Islam in the region.

At the heart of this view is the following worry: the Rohingya problem is contributing to and is partly responsible for the rise of international jihadist movements. In more operational terms, there is the claim that the Rohingya are helping to support Islamic fundamentalism by acting as a (passive) recruiting base for Islamic militant extremists and through direct support for religious fundamentalism.

It is claimed that some radicalized sections of the refugees actively maintain links with banned Islamist groupings like JMB or Huji. Some radicalized Rohingya are accused of not only sympathizing with their fundamentalist worldview but also actively providing resources for these Islamist outfits, for example, providing training on arms and explosives. Additionally, there is the accusation that the Rohingya are using their international network to allocate funds from like-minded international organizations for militant groups operating in their host countries, especially in Bangladesh.

Rohingya have also been held responsible for the undermining of the general law and order situation in their host societies. Besides terrorism, extremist violence, and religious extremism, the Rohingya crisis is also seen as being associated with all kinds of criminal activities including narcotics, human trafficking, illegal trade in SALW (small arms and light weapons) and ammunition, stealing, armed robbery, and maritime piracy. Other major concerns are smuggling and illegal cross-border infiltrations.

Additionally, Rohingya have increasingly linked with growing rates of crimes related to extortion, sexual harassment (including prostitution and sexual slavery), killings for organs, domestic servitude, and forced labor by criminal networks in their host countries.

However, there is the tendency among authorities of host countries to ignore the fact that the Rohingya are mostly the victims and not the perpetrators in these scenarios. Rather, it seems that the general tendency up to this point has been to focus on the refugee crisis as the causal factor for the increase in security concerns.

Rohingya have also been identified by some host governments and local communities as a negative disturbance to local economies, especially when they are settling in underdeveloped regions. Some fear that the Rohingya constitute an additional demographic pressure on the already densely populated area with scarce resources. Others claim that the (mostly illegal) penetration of the refugees in regional job markets leads to further socio-economic inequalities and reduces employment opportunities for the local workforce.

Still others suggest that security measures are needed because the refugee crisis is causing instability, leading to a real reduction in trade and commerce, especially in the Bangladesh-Myanmar relations. In this context, Rohingya are also blamed by state authorities for delays in enhancing regional connectivity (infrastructure) and hampering the working relationship between Dhaka and Naypyidaw.

With bilateral talks between Malaysia and Indonesia and the earlier mentioned Bangkok conference on “irregular migrations”

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on May 29, as well as other steps, the international approach to the Rohingya is finally moving from ignorance to action. But it would be naïve to think this trajectory is only due to the humanitarian crisis of the refugees. Rather, the negative impacts of illegal migration – particularly on the security side – have finally convinced the international community to act, even though this may be based on unfounded fears.

Given this, what is most important is to preserve the political will and to strengthen the decision-making procedures in order to work towards a coherent and comprehensive solution to the Rohingya problem. Attending to security concerns cannot be done at the expense of humanitarian needs.

By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized

Reforms in Myanmar: Need for caution

Reforms in Myanmar: Need for caution


“The road to future peace in Myanmar is now open,” said President Thein Sein after his government signed a ceasefire agreement with eight armed ethnic groups on Thursday. The president seems to be unaware of the many hurdles on the path to peace. For one thing, seven of the 15 armed groups declined to sign the agreement. Though the Karen National Union (KNU) that has been at war with the Myanmar military for nearly 70 years is a party to the deal, the United Wa State Army, believed to be the largest and best equipped of the country’s armed ethnic groups, is not. Based in the Shan State, the Wa State Army receives large quantities of military hardware from China.

The Kachin Independence Organization, which controls vast areas of Kachin State in Myanmar’s northeast has also not joined the peace process. Thein Sein, who made the nationwide ceasefire a key platform for his reformist agenda after taking power in 2011, wanted the deal to be signed ahead of the Nov. 8 general elections. The government has removed all the groups that signed the ceasefire agreement from its list of Unlawful Associations. This is expected to help them join the political mainstream.

Thursday’s agreement was the culmination of more than two years of negotiations with both the government and the rebel groups coming under growing pressure from the West to end what a US State Department spokesman described as “the longest-running civil conflict in the world.”

Apart from US, institutions from the European Union to Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and Japan were involved in the government-led peace agenda. Beijing has long expressed a desire to see peace restored in Kachin State, where it has massive investments in the local jade trade, mineral exploration and hydroelectric power.

Although the West and China exercise considerable influence over Myanmar’s peace process, the latter is worried that the West, and particularly the United States, is extending its presence in Myanmar right into China’s backyard. US Ambassador Derek Mitchell has visited war-torn Kachin State twice in just one year. This may be the reason why China put pressure on the United Wa State Army and the Kachin Independence Organization that operate on the Myanmar-China border, not to sign the agreement. This together with the fact that opposition figures such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and several key leaders and civil society groups have kept aloof from the peace process argues against pinning too many hopes on the ceasefire agreement restoring peace and stability in Myanmar’s ethnic regions.

Then there is the still unresolved issue of Rohingyas. Though US President Barack Obama pushed Myanmar to conclude the ceasefire as part of wider changes to protect minorities, Rohingya Muslims are the one minority who needs protection most and who stand to gain the least from the recent reforms in that country. Even the November elections will not bring any succor to them. The government has disenfranchised almost all of Myanmar’s approximately one million Rohingyas because of heavy pressure from nationalist politicians and Buddhist monks who regard them as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh though their ancestors have been living in this Buddhist country since the seventh century. Worse still, almost all political parties are resorting to anti-Rohingya rhetoric to raise suspicions and create fears about this helpless minority in the minds of the majority Buddhists. Even the NLD led by Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi appears to have succumbed to pressure from radical Buddhist monks and is fielding no Muslim candidates in the elections.

This means the West should not view Thursday ceasefire agreement as the end of the reform process, but as a modest beginning. More important, they must ensure that the options before Rohingyas are not “to stay and die or to leave by boat,” as Yanghee Lee, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, pointed out in one of her reports.

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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized

In Burma’s historic elections, a Muslim minority is banned from voting but still the focus of the campaign

In Burma’s historic elections, a Muslim minority is banned from voting but still the focus of the campaign

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi skips Rohingya internment camps on campaign trip to sectarian hotbed of Rakhine, but country’s racial and religious fault-lines still dominate her visit

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a campaign rally at Thandwe city in Rakhine state

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a campaign rally at Thandwe city in Rakhine state  Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP

In the wretched and sprawling internment camps for Rohingya Muslims strung along the cyclone-battered Bay of Bengal, Burma’s unpredictable experiment in democracy next month is already a non-event.

There are no rallies, no posters, not even any candidates, for landmark elections as the minority Muslim community here has been wiped from the voting lists by official decree under controversial citizenship rules.

The Rohingya may not be able to cast a ballot on November 8, but they are still at the centre of an election campaign increasingly tainted by anti-Muslim sentiment fuelled by Buddhist nationalist politicians and radical monks.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who has been drawing huge crowds at rallies across the country, also kept her distance from the camps in her first campaign foray into Rakhine state – the scene of sectarian bloodletting between Buddhists and Muslims.

The Nobel laureate has been criticised on the international stage for her failure to speak out about the desperate plight of the Rohingya, largely confined to internment camps since the 2012 violence.

But inside Burma, also known as Myanmar, she has been attacked by Buddhist hardliners for being too sympathetic to the Muslim minority. And in Rakhine, she made her clearest call yet for an end to religious hatred and discrimination.

People cheer as they listen to Aung San Suu Kyi in ThandwePeople cheer as they listen to Aung San Suu Kyi in Thandwe  Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

“It is very important that all people regardless of religion living in our country must be safe,” Ms Suu Kyi declared.

She also gave short shrift to a Buddhist constituent who asked her about rumours that the NLD would oversee a “takeover” of the country by Muslims, who form about five per cent of the population.

It is a fear expressed repeatedly by Buddhist nationalists across the country. But Ms Suu Kyi was forthright in her response, saying the question itself risked “inciting racial or religious conflict.”

While anti-Muslim feelings are growing across Burma, the Rohingya of Rakhine state are particularly reviled. Corralled in camps behind military checkpoints after the communal bloodshed three years ago, many have risked their lives fleeing on rickety trafficker boats as South East Asia’s “boat people.”

“We can’t go anywhere,” one community elder told The Telegraph. “At least the blacks in South Africa could leave the bantustan homelands created by the Afrikaaners to go to work, we can’t even do that. We’re trapped.”

Rohingya migrants pass food supplies dropped by a Thai army helicopter to others aboard a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on on May 14, 2015. A boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants was found drifting in Thai waters on May 14, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days.Rohingya migrants in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe  Photo: Christophe Archambault/AFP

Rohingya leaders insist that they have roots in Burma dating back centuries, but the country’s government has long viewed them as illegal Muslim interlopers from neighbouring Bangladesh. The Burmese do not even accept the name Rohingya, instead calling them “Bengalis”.

Their plight as a stateless unwanted people was already pitiful. But in the former British colony’s venture towards a new, democratic era after five decades of military dictatorship, they are losers before any votes are even cast.

Buddhism has a reputation as a religion of peace and tolerance, but a new breed of firebrand Burmese monk has exerted its political clout by stoking the anti-Islamic feeling during the campaign.

Leading the onslaught has been Ashin Wirathu, a militant Burmese monk once dubbed “The Buddhist Bin Laden”. “Muslims are only well behaved when they are weak,” he once declared. “When they are strong they are like a wolf or a jackal, in large packs they hunt down other animals.”

Myanmar's firebrand Buddhist monk Wirathu in YangonBurma’s firebrand Buddhist monk Wirathu in Yangon  Photo: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

It is precisely this kind of sectarian feeling that Burma’s military-backed ruling party has now sought to harness in its bid to fend off the challenge of Ms Suu Kyi’s NLD and cling to power.

As part of that effort, Thein Sein, the general-turned-president, this year supervised the whole-scale disenfranchisement of Rohingyas – a people allowed to vote in previous elections under the military – after the confiscation of their identity cards.

It might have been expected that Ms Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest for her advocacy of free speech, would have publicly defended the oppressed minority.

But she is now a politician seeking victory in an electorate where there are few votes in speaking out for the Rohingya. So she has taken a political calculation to say little about their fate, for now at least.

Indeed, in Burma her party is still assailed for being “weak on Islam” after it opposed four new “race and religion” laws that were championed by Buddhist clerics and are widely seen as discriminating against Muslims and women.

The intimidating stance of the radical Buddhist Organisation for Protection of Nationality and Religion (Ma Ba Tha) has already exercised its toll on the choice of candidates by the NLD.

Win Htein, a senior MP, has acknowledged “political reasons” forced Ms Suu Kyi’s party not to name a single Muslim candidate for election.

“We have qualified Muslim candidates but we can’t select them for political reasons,” he said. “If we choose Muslim candidates, Ma Ba Tha points their fingers at us so we have to avoid it.”

Buddhist monks who support Ma Ba Tha sit as they attend a celebration of the recent establishment of four controversial bills decried by rights groups as aimed at discriminating against the country's Muslim minority, at a rally in a stadium at Yangon Buddhist monks attend a victory rally celebrating the passage of controversial ‘race and religion’ laws in Rangoon  Photo: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

And even Muslim candidates who tried to run for other parties were disqualified by the state because they could not prove their parents were eligible to be Burmese citizens at the time of their birth.

“It’s racism and religious discrimination, straight and simple,” said Kyaw Min, leader of the Democracy and Human Rights Party, a mainly Rohingya political grouping, who was among dozens of disqualified Muslim election candidates.

“I am 70 and my parents were born here when Britain ruled Burma,” he said. “I have submitted all the records that I have but still they won’t accept it. I stood as a candidate and won in 1990, but now they say I’m not Burmese.”

But Rohingya leaders said that they understood the political pressures that have shaped Ms Suu Kyi’s decision not to talk about their suffering or name Muslim candidates, even while she is assailed internationally for her stance.

“I would not say that I am disappointed with her because she has to operate in this country with the mood here now,” said Kyaw Min. “I am sure that things will be better for us if the NLD wins the elections.”

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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized

US Report Catalogs Religious Freedom Abuses in Authoritarian Asian States

US Report Catalogs Religious Freedom Abuses in Authoritarian Asian States

By Richard Finney


Cross still in place on the Jinjia’er church in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province, July 27, 2015

Religious freedoms were harshly restricted in China and Myanmar over the past year, with Chinese authorities removing hundreds of crosses from Christian churches in a coastal province and the government in Myanmar limiting the rights of Muslims and other religious minorities, the U.S. State Department said in an annual report released on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, government authorities continued to harass unregistered religious groups, especially those suspected of involvement in political activity, while in Laos national authorities failed to prevent abuses by officials in remote areas of the country, according to the report.

In China, the State Department’s 2014 International Religious Freedom Report said, government authorities “tortured, physically abused, detained, arrested, sentenced to prison, or harassed a number of religious adherents” belonging to both registered and unregistered groups.

Hundreds of crosses and steeples deemed illegal structures were forcibly removed from churches in Zhejiang province, and in some cases a number of prominent churches, including Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou city, were demolished, the report said.

Local authorities also pressured religious believers to join state-controlled religious associations and used coercive measures, including confinement and abuse in detention centers, to punish members of unregistered groups, the State Department said.

Restrictions meanwhile continued in Uyghur and Tibetan minority areas in China, the State Department said, with bans imposed on the wearing by Muslim Uyghurs of Islamic veils or other clothing associated with “religious extremism,” and limits placed on the numbers of monks and nuns allowed to enroll in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.

“Although authorities permitted some traditional religious ceremonies and practices” in Tibetan areas, authorities also often “restricted or canceled religious festivals, [and] at times forbade monks from traveling to villages to conduct religious ceremonies,” the report said.

Discrimination, travel bans

In Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, Muslim, Christian, and other religious minorities often “faced physical abuse, arbitrary arrest and detention, restrictions on religious practice and travel, and discrimination in employment and access to citizenship,” the State Department said.

Government officials frequently withheld permission to build or repair mosques or other places of worship not belonging to the country’s Buddhist majority, the report said, while Buddhists were often favored by “unwritten government policies” for promotion into higher civil service or military ranks.

In Vietnam, authorities continued during the year to restrict the activities of religious groups operating outside of state control, with group members reporting “various forms of governmental harassment,” the State Department said.

Measures taken against unregistered groups included “assault, short term detentions, prosecutions, monitoring, restrictions on travel, and denials of registration and/or other permissions,” according to the report.

Protestant denominations in Vietnam’s Central Highlands reported discrimination against them by local authorities, while in June police and state-directed mobs in southern Vietnam’s Binh Duong province launched a campaign of harassment against an unregistered congregation of Mennonites.

Government forces harassed the community throughout the year, raiding Bible classes and detaining and beating church members, and at times preventing followers from leaving their homes, the report said.

Meanwhile, national laws protecting religious freedoms in Laos were routinely flouted by authorities in the provinces, the State Department said, adding that abuses were aimed most often at Protestant groups, “whether or not officially recognized.”

Attempted forced renunciations, detentions, and imprisonments were reported throughout the year, the report said.

“[But] government authorities often blamed the victims rather than the persecuting officials,” the report said.

“Even when the central government officials acknowledged certain actions, they often said the actions taken by local officials were not based on religion, but on local officials’ duty to maintain order.”

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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized

In policy shift, China courts hardline Buddhist party ahead of Myanmar poll

Chinese officials have offered support to Aye Maung, chairman of Myanmar’s Arakan National Party, an organisation of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists that is riding a tide of anti-Muslim sentiment. PHOTO: REUTERS

KYAUKPYU, Myanmar (REUTERS) – A powerful ethnic nationalist politician from one of Myanmar’s poorest and most volatile regions said Chinese officials made him an irresistible offer during a recent visit to the country: Ask for anything, and we’ll give it to you.

Beijing’s courting of Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), underscores how China is taking steps to protect its most strategic investments in Myanmar – twin oil and gas pipelines and a deep sea port – ahead of an unpredictable election in the South-east Asian nation next month.

Such willingness to engage with opposition parties to secure its investments overseas represents a major shift in China’s non-interventionist foreign policy. “We want China, or even America, or Singapore, if the Indian government invites me, we welcome it,” Dr Aye Maung told Reuters.”We need so many investments for the development of our area.”

The ANP, an organisation of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists that is riding a tide of anti-Muslim sentiment, is poised to make a near-clean sweep of Rakhine state in Myanmar’s first free and fair election in 25 years. There is speculation that Dr Aye Maung could win the powerful post of chief minister of the state.

That makes him a key potential ally for Beijing, whose most important Myanmar investments are located in the western state.

The fishing town of Kyaukpyu, racked by violence three years ago between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas, is at the heart of China’s drive for new resources and trade routes.

In particular, new oil and gas pipelines from Kyaukpyu connect China’s southwestern province of Yunnan directly with the Indian Ocean, bypassing the narrow Malacca Strait, where a strong US naval presence has long worried Chinese policymakers.


According to Dr Aye Maung, the ruling Chinese Communist Party invited him to visit Fujian and Guizhou provinces in July. At one meeting, he says an official from the party’s International Department told him China had only engaged with President Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, and the ANP.

“They told me: we have connected with three parties. You are the one party from all the ethnic groups in Myanmar,” Dr Aye Maung told Reuters in an interview in Ann, a town near Kyaukpyu, where he was campaigning.

Dr Aye Maung’s two trips were covered in brief reports by local media in China and Myanmar, but no other accounts of what was discussed in his meetings have been made public.

The Communist Party’s International Department did not respond to a faxed request for comment. Calls by telephone went unanswered.

A senior official from Mr Thein Sein’s office said the Myanmar president had encouraged ties between China and NGOs and rival political parties in Myanmar. “I think they’re trying to improve ties, (Chinese talks) with the ANP is just a part of developing this new policy,” the official, Mr Zaw Htay, told Reuters.

For decades, China has relied on a simple formula for its foreign policy: avoid anything that could be seen as interfering in a country’s domestic politics.

But now, analysts say there is a growing belief in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration that the old doctrine is insufficient to protect Beijing’s interests. “In recent years, we suffered great losses in only dealing with ruling parties, so that required us to make a change,” said Xu Liping, head of the department of Asia-Pacific Social and Cultural Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think tank.

In June, Mr Xi hosted Nobel laureate Ms Suu Kyi.

Ties between Beijing and its southern neighbour were close when Myanmar was under military rule and treated as a pariah state by Western nations.

But in 2011, when the junta ceded power to a quasi-civilian government, China was stung by Myanmar’s sudden suspension of the Chinese-led US$3.6 billion (S$5 billion) Myitsone dam project in the northern state of Kachin following a public outcry over its environmental impact.

The event prompted Beijing to tweak its policy on Myanmar.”It was a heavy blow to the Chinese government,” said Mr Xu.


Dr Aye Maung said he has not responded specifically to China’s offers of help. But he said he would like tractors and farm machinery to help with Rakhine’s harvest, and had also discussed student scholarships.

Rakhine could certainly use the assistance – the state has a poverty rate of 78 per cent, according to a 2014 World Bank report.

But although securing much-needed investment could strengthen Dr Aye Maung’s hand at home, accusations of land grabs and environmental destruction have fuelled anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar, and embracing Beijing is not without risk.

“There has been a lot of criticism about Dr Aye Maung’s trip from local organisations and young people,” said Mr Htoot May, an ANP candidate running in next month’s election. “We young people like Western policy and help, not Chinese policy.”

Chinese investments in Kyaukpyu could amount to nearly US$100 billion if all the current plans, including a special economic zone, materialise over the next two decades, according to C. Raja Mohan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

But residents say the oil and gas pipelines built so far have not given them any jobs. “With the gas project, everyone thought that when they came, they would hire our workers,” said Tun Tun Naing, a 36-year-old local activist. “But when they arrived, even their cooks were Chinese.”

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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized

Suu Kyi calls for unity in divided Rakhine

Suu Kyi calls for unity in divided Rakhine

Chairperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addresses supporters during her election campaign trip in Gwa Myo, Rakhine State on October 18, 2015. Photo: Min Min/Mizzima

Chairperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addresses supporters during her election campaign trip in Gwa Myo, Rakhine State on October 18, 2015. Photo: Min Min/Mizzima

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called for unity in volatile Rakhine state on Saturday in an impassioned election rally, tackling head-on bitter religious divisions between Buddhists and Muslims that have shaken the former junta-run nation.

The opposition leader has faced international disappointment at her reluctance to speak out for marginalised Rohingya Muslims in the western state, but is also viewed with suspicion by Buddhist hardliners who see her as sympathetic to the minority.

In a speech to hundreds of supporters in Thandwe town, Suu Kyi said it was critical that people nationwide could live “without discrimination based on race and religion”.

“All citizens in the union need to unite… great hatred and fear does not benefit our country,” she said, repeating recent assertions that her political opponents had tried to use religion as a tool in campaigns for the November 8 polls.

Myanmar’s general elections are tipped to be the freest in generations for a nation that languished in poverty and isolation under almost half a century of military rule.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) — contesting its first nationwide vote in 25 years — is expected to shunt out the army-backed ruling party, which has overseen a quasi-civilian transition since junta rule ended in 2011.

But there are rising fears that the polls could act as a flashpoint for religious intolerance that has festered in Myanmar since deadly unrest between Buddhists and Muslims swept Rakhine in 2012, later spreading to other parts of the country.

– ‘No equal rights’ –

Radical monks have surged in prominence in recent years, preaching a message that Muslims threaten the very fabric of Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

In Thandwe, the gateway to the country’s most popular tourist beach resorts, a wave of anti-Muslim rioting in 2013 killed at least six and left a legacy of fear.

Those anxieties were on display at the rally Saturday where Suu Kyi took questions from both Buddhists and Muslims.

Asked by a Muslim man how the NLD would prevent religious discrimination, the veteran activist said a government under her party would prioritise the rule of law, a common response from the Nobel laureate.

But she slammed a Buddhist asking her to respond to rumours that her party would usher in a Muslim take-over of the country, saying the very question risked “inciting racial or religious conflict”.

Suu Kyi, 70, is in Rakhine for the first time in over a decade and will stop at one more rural coastal town, Gwa, before driving to the central delta region Sunday.

She has been flanked by a large security contingent in Rakhine over concerns for her safety in the combustible region.

Last month world powers warned that religious tensions could spark “conflict” in Myanmar ahead of the elections.

Suu Kyi herself has faced accusations of bowing to religious hardliners.

Her party has fielded no Muslim candidates for the polls — part of a wider loss of political representation for a minority that makes up around five percent of the population.

Most of the 140,000 people displaced by the 2012 violence are Muslims — they remain trapped in camps or have attempted to escape on rickety boats in a desperate exodus from Myanmar that has swelled in recent years.

But both Buddhist and Muslim communities are affected by hardship in Rakhine, one of Myanmar’s least developed regions.

“There are many conflicts because we have no equal rights. But we will get equal rights if the NLD wins,” said Muslim taxi driver Soe Moe Aung in Thandwe, adding everyone was a “friend” irrespective of religion.


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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized

ASEAN parliamentarians warns of looming regional crisis over Rohingya

ASEAN parliamentarians warns of looming regional crisis over Rohingya

Ethnic Muslim Rohingya migrants, believed to have come from Myanmar and Bangladesh, on an abandoned boat drifting in the Andaman Sea close to Malaysia, southern Thailand, 14 May 2015.

Ethnic Muslim Rohingya migrants, believed to have come from Myanmar and Bangladesh, on an abandoned boat drifting in the Andaman Sea close to Malaysia, southern Thailand, 14 May 2015. Photo: EPA

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights group is warning the Rohingya crisis could get worse.

Increasingly marginalized and desperate, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are being forced to flee in ever-greater numbers, exacerbating a regional crisis that ASEAN leaders are woefully ill prepared to cope with, APHR warned on October 16.

“ASEAN met to discuss the refugee crisis in May, but lamentably avoided a much-needed discussion of its underlying drivers, which are rooted in Rakhine State,” APHR Chairperson and Malaysian MP Charles Santiago said. “ASEAN leaders are burying their heads in the sand, and it’s going to come back to bite them.”

At the release of their latest report, “Disenfranchisement and Desperation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State: Drivers of a Regional Crisis,” APHR warned that exclusionary government policies, including mass disenfranchisement of Rohingya ahead of November’s historic general election, is exacerbating the already intense sense of desperation within Rohingya communities.

APHR cautioned that the region’s failure to respond in any meaningful way to the impending catastrophe has been unfortunately predictable, but governments will be forced to stand up and take note soon when sailing season begins again. Unless ASEAN addresses the situation in Rakhine State directly, more Rohingya will continue to try and leave the country by any means necessary, the group said.

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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized

Burma elections: Aung San Suu Kyi steers clear of ‘stateless’ minority the Rohingya

Burma elections: Aung San Suu Kyi steers clear of ‘stateless’ minority the Rohingya

The Rohingya are a controversial topic in Burma and Ms Suu Kyi is not expected to visit the areas where most of their camps are located

Hundreds of people wearing flags turned out to greet Aung San Suu Kyi as she touched down in Rakhine state on Friday – her first visit to the conflict-hit area in more than a decade.

The leader of the opposition National League for Democracy party is on a three-day visit to Rakhine ahead of landmark elections next month, billed as the country’s first free and fair national vote after decades of military rule.

And while crowds of supporters dressed in NLD red greeted her off the plane, the trip could prove difficult for the woman affectionately known as “the Lady”.

The state is home to the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group who have been left effectively stateless, and disenfranchised by the Burmese government. More than 100,000 Rohingya have been forced into displacement camps since violence broke out between them and Rakhinese Buddhists in 2012.

The Burmese government claims the Rohingya are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and withdrew their identity cards earlier this year, barring them from voting.

Only Allah can help me – not Aung San Suu Kyi

Moor Amin

For many in the Dar Paing camp in the state capital of Sittwe, a visit from Ms Suu Kyi would have been welcome to raise awareness of their plight, but the Rohingya are a controversial topic in Burma and Ms Suu Kyi is not expected to visit the north of Rakhine or Sittwe, where most of the Rohingya camps are located.

“I am upset to know that Aung San Suu Kyi came here to Rakhine State but not to this area,” said Reyhana, who sleeps eight to a room with several generations of her family. “She should have had a look at the situation of the Rohingya.”

Ms Suu Kyi has faced criticism for her silence over the plight of the Rohingya, with international figures such as the Dalai Lama calling on the Nobel Peace Laureate, to speak out. However, in Burma increasingly confident ultranationalist monks already accuse the NLD of being too sympathetic to the Muslim cause, with some having warned that her visit to Rakhine could incite protests.

Shalom, who lives in the Dar Paing camp, said: “I am a bit angry with Aung San Suu Kyi that she is keeping silent about the Rohingya. I don’t know how I can trust her.”

But most camp residents said they believed political pressure within the country, which is predominantly Buddhist, made speaking out difficult for Ms Suu Kyi.

“Hate speech has been created by the government, so Muslims are discriminated against by Buddhists,” said Mohammad Allam. “If Aung San Suu Kyi talked about Rohingya Muslims, maybe the Buddhist community will get angry. That is why she is silent.”

For many in the camps though, “the Lady” remains their only hope.

Yunis, 32, recently saw his home destroyed in storms that brought major flooding to Rakhine. He is now living under tarpaulin on the edge of the camp with his family.

“Spending one day here is like spending a year,” he said. “We survive on food handouts and my children are sick… Aung San Suu Kyi would not keep us in [the displacement] camps. She would do something for my people.”

Others are less optimistic. Moor Amin has paralysis down one side of his body and cannot afford to get treatment. He has no hope the situation will improve whatever the election result.

“Only Allah can help me – not Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.

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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized

Burma’s next parliament may be devoid of Muslims

Burma’s next parliament may be devoid of Muslims

(PHOTO: Reuters) (PHOTO: Reuters)

On 8 November, Burma will go to the polls in what has been billed as the first free and fair parliamentary election in 25 years, yet the marginalisation of the Muslim community has left local and international observers concerned about how democratic the vote will be.

Of the more than 6,000 candidates running in the elections, the overwhelming majority of them are Buddhist, and only 28 are Muslim, representing just 0.5 percent of candidates, according to the final list of candidates released by the Union Election Commission (UEC).

Muslims make up about 5 percent of the country’s predominantly Buddhist population.

The UEC has rejected more than a hundred would-be candidates, mostly Muslims, stating that their parents were not recognised as citizens yet at the time of the candidate’s birth, meaning their candidacy would be in violation of the Elections Law.

The decision has raised concerns among rights groups and observers, and regional lawmakers warned it could “undermine the credibility of the contest”.

“In any other country, the rejection of an entire class of candidates would render the contest itself undemocratic,” Charles Santiago, a member of parliament from Malaysia and chairperson of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement in September.

Religious tensions are running high in Burma ahead of the election, largely stoked by the radical Buddhist group Ma-Ba-Tha, which has emerged as a powerful force.

“We are all in a helpless state,” said Kyaw Min, a Muslim politician and chairman of the Democracy and Human Rights Party. “The decisions are arbitrarily made along racial and religious lines.”

His party submitted applications for 18 candidates mainly for constituencies in Arakan State in western Burma, which has a sizable population of stateless Rohingya Muslims, but only three were approved as candidates.

In total, UEC figures show that of 6,074 approved candidates in the elections, there are 5,130 Buddhists, 903 Christians and 28 Muslims.

Not only are there very few Muslim candidates running in the elections, but most are representing little-known political parties, leaving many with slim chances of winning any seats.

“There is strong likelihood that there will be no Muslim legislator in the parliament,” said Myo Thant, a Muslim politician who has decided not to run in the poll which he said is being held under the influence of nationalist monks.

“Everyone is pandering to the wish of the Ma-Ba-Tha,” he said.

Major parties exclude Muslims

In an apparent move to appease Ma-Ba-Tha, the main political parties have excluded Muslims as candidates.

Some Ma-Ba-Tha monks have publicly condemned the popular National League for Democracy party (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi as a “pro-Islam” party which Buddhists should not vote for.

The NLD’s leadership made the decision to exclude Muslims from its candidate list to avoid criticism, said NLD spokesman Win Htein.

“Our NLD members who are Muslims are very much understanding of this situation,” he said.

Apart from two Muslim candidates representing the National Unity Party (NUP), the party of the former military dictator Ne Win, almost all Muslim candidates are representing little known, Rangoon-based Muslim political parties.

Kyaw Min said powerful parties are avoiding Muslims either out of fear that they will lose votes or with the deliberate intent of keeping Muslims out of the formal political arena.

“The result is Muslims will lose their democratic right to represent their community. This will also discourage the patriotism of Muslims in this country,” he said.

His party is one of a handful that is fielding Muslim candidates outside Rangoon, including the only Muslim candidate in the town of Maungdaw in northern Arakan State.

Like many of his party’s would-be candidates, Kyaw Min himself was rejected by the election commission, despite him winning a seat in the 1990 elections, the results of which were ignored by the junta.

Muslims disenfranchised

In Arakan (also known as Rakhine State), the authorities have revoked the ‘white cards’—temporary national identity cards – of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, making them ineligible to vote.

These white cards enabled the embattled Muslim community there to vote in previous elections in 1990 and in 2010. They will now be disenfranchised, warned United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

“I am deeply disappointed by this effective disenfranchisement of the Rohingya and other minority communities,” the UN chief said late last month.

The Carter Center, which is observing the elections, released a statement on 25 September, saying, “The disqualification of almost all Muslim candidates running in Rakhine State further limits representation possibilities for the Rohingya population, already largely disenfranchised by the cancellation of voting rights for former temporary citizenship card holders.”

The current union parliament is already dominated by Buddhists. There are only three Muslim legislators from USDP representing constituencies in the towns of Buthidaung and Maungdaw in northern Arakan.

Despite their small number, they have asked more questions than any other MPs according to Myanmar Now’s analysis of data of MPs’ questions in 11 out of 12 parliamentary sessions since the government took power in 2011.

Most were related to the citizenship and other rights issues regarding the Rohingya. Yet none of the three are not on the ballot for the upcoming elections.

While two have apparently left politics, Shwe Maung, who represents the town of Buthidaung in Arakan, quit the USDP and attempted to run as an independent candidate. He was disqualified for the same reason as other Muslim candidates.

“I wish I could say I was an exception. But the truth is that Rohingya, along with other Muslims in Myanmar, are totally alienated and excluded from participation in politics. And make no mistake: it is because of our ethnicity and religion,” Shwe Maung has said in a statement released by APHR last month.

Hla Toe, a Muslim who co-chairs the Kaman National Development Party, has little hope of winning a seat in Arakan. Of four Muslim candidates running there, two are from his party.

“We will try to win a seat in Yangon [Rangoon], but we don’t think we will win in Rakhine State where there is a lot of racial discrimination,” said Hla Toe, who himself is running for a lower house seat in Rangoon’s Minglar Taungnyunt Township.

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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized

Myanmar separatist group Arakan Army leader Renin Su nabbed in Rangamati

Myanmar separatist group Arakan Army leader Renin Su nabbed in Rangamati

Rajsthali police OC Wahidullah Sarkar said on Wednesday that Su was arrested from an under-construction mosque at Islampur around 3am.

By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized

Myanmar’s Buddhist Monks Flex Muscle Ahead of Election

Myanmar’s Buddhist Monks Flex Muscle Ahead of Election

Hard-line nationalist Buddhist monks and supporters celebrated in Yangon on Oct. 4 the passage of laws restricting conversions and interfaith marriages, which rights groups charge discriminate against Myanmar’s Muslims and other minority religions. PHOTO: REUTERS

By James Hookway & Shibani Mahtani

October 14, 2015
Nationalist campaign against minority Muslims raises questions about democratic transition
MANDALAY, Myanmar—Buddhism is normally associated with meditation and withdrawing from the material world. But some monks here are playing a more temporal role, pressing a hard-line nationalist agenda ahead of next month’s elections that threatens the country’s nascent shift to democracy after decades of military rule.
Ashin Wirathu, the 47-year-old abbot of the Ma Soe Yein monastery in Mandalay, is among the most influential. His head shaved smooth, he frequently tugs a pair of battered reading glasses from the folds of his orange robes to check his buzzing cellphone or read notes passed to him by bowing aides. He is quick to smile and chats companionably with visitors.
He also has a long track record of advocating a hard-line, Buddhism-infused nationalism that mines a deep seam of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar, much of it directed against ethnic Rohingya.
Ashin Wirathu at a Sept. 21 celebration in Mandalay of the Ma Ba Tha group he helped found ‘for the protection of race and religion.’PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2003 for inciting attacks on Muslims. After his release in 2010 as a part of a broader amnesty, Mr. Wirathu has used social media and a network of DVD distributors to broadcast his sermons nationwide.
In an interview, he denied urging attacks on Muslims. He has, however, appeared at the scenes of some of the worst violence, usually visiting a monastery or delivering a sermon.
“They buy land and properties everywhere. They use the power of money to attract to women,” he said in a sermon before anti-Muslim riots in Meiktila in central Myanmar in 2013. He also habitually refers to Muslims as “kalar,” a derogatory term.
Mr. Wirathu helped create the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, which this year persuaded parliament to enact laws restricting conversions and interfaith marriages—measures the group says are designed to stop the spread of Islam in a country that is about 90% Buddhist.
The group, known by its local acronym Ma Ba Tha, now focuses on providing legal help to Buddhists caught up in legal disputes with followers of other faiths and providing education and welfare services.
On Oct. 4, thousands of monks and their supporters rallied at a sports arena in the main city, Yangon, to celebrate their gains. “We’ve achieved a lot in a short time,” Mr. Wirathu said in the interview at his monastery.
He isn’t finished yet. After lunch, the abbot retreated from the 100-degree heat to rehearse video clips to be uploaded to YouTube, to help supporters decide whom to vote for on Nov. 8. It doesn’t matter which party the candidate represents, Mr. Wirathu said in front of a three-man camera team. What matters, he said, is if they are “the right kind of people.”
“We’ll be watching them to make sure they do what they say,” said Mr. Wirathu, who, like other Buddhist monks, is prohibited from voting.
The election pits the party of President Thein Sein, a former general, against opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, with a host of smaller parties also competing.
Whoever wins, the nationalist monks argue that Buddhism should be placed front and center in the new-look Myanmar and fill the vacuum left by the old military order since it formally ceded power five years ago—even if that means sidelining minorities.
Buddhism has acquired a political edge in other parts of Asia as well.
Monks in Sri Lanka made a push into political life after the end of a decadeslong civil war. In Thailand, monks have played a prominent role in the mass street protests that helped lead to two military coups in the past decade.
Myanmar’s monks played a significant role in the campaign for independence from Britain and led antigovernment revolts in 1988 and 2007.
They appear to be having an impact.
President Thein Sein, in campaign videos for the Union Solidarity and Development Party, touts the passage of pro-Buddhist laws as a high point of his administration.
In a recent campaign speech, Ms. Suu Kyi had to deflect suggestions from the audience that she would turn Myanmar into a Muslim nation if her party were to form the next government. “Using this issue to campaign isn’t in line with the law and is twisting the political campaign,” she said. “People should not be worried about this.”
Her party has complained to Myanmar’s election commission about what is says is the monks’ intervention in the campaign, but says the commission hasn’t responded. The commission says it oversees only registered political parties, not lobby groups.
Win Htein, an executive with her party, said it chose not to have any Muslim candidates because that would have provided opponents with easy ammunition.
Some prominent voices have expressed concern about the nationalist creed promulgated by Mr. Wirathu and his supporters.
Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said that “clearly there are forces that remain opposed to the democratic transition” who are “using race and religion to change the subject of the election.”
Yangon’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has called the way unelected fringe groups like Ma Ba Tha were influencing parliament “a dangerous portent.”
A founding member of Ms. Suu Kyi’s party, 88-year-old Tin Oo, visited Mr. Wirathu in Mandalay on Sept. 30 in an effort to ease tensions. After the octogenarian prostrated himself before the monk in a customary gesture of respect, Mr. Wirathu said in a video uploaded to his Facebook page that Ma Ba Tha would ease off its attacks—if the party distanced itself from criticism of the nationalists.

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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( merhrom) Posted in Uncategorized